May 18, 2019

Colorado Supreme Court: Allowing Alternate Juror to Deliberate Did Not Affect Parties’ Substantial Rights

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Johnson v. Schonlaw on Monday, September 17, 2018.

Jury Deliberations—Conduct Affecting Jurors—Risk of Prejudice—Harmless Error.

Johnson sought review of the court of appeals’ judgment reversing jury verdicts in his favor on personal injury claims against Schonlaw and VCG Restaurants. At the close of the case, the district court overruled the objections of Schonlaw and VCG to its announced decision to allow the alternate to deliberate to verdict with the other jurors. The court of appeals concluded that the trial court had erred in allowing an alternate juror to participate in jury deliberations over the objection of a party, and that the error gave rise to a presumption of prejudice, which remained unrebutted by Johnson, and therefore  required reversal.

The supreme court reversed, holding that because the error did not affect the substantial rights of any defendant, it should have been disregarded as harmless, as required by C.R.C.P. 61.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Evidence of Guilt Overwhelming so Any Error in Failing to Discharge Alternate Juror was Harmless

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in James v. People on Monday, September 17, 2018.

Jury Deliberations—Conduct Affecting Jurors—Risk of Prejudice—Harmless Error.

James sought review of the court of appeals’ judgment affirming his conviction for possession of methamphetamine. Upon realizing that it had failed to discharge the alternate juror before the jury retired to deliberate, the district court recalled and dismissed the alternate, instructed the jury to continue with deliberations uninfluenced by anything the alternate may have said or done, and denied the defense motion for dismissal or mistrial. The court of appeals concluded that the trial court’s error in allowing the alternate juror to retire with the jury and the juror’s presence for part of the deliberations were harmless beyond a reasonable doubt and, after rejecting James’s other assignments of error, affirmed his conviction. The supreme court held that the evidence proving defendant’s guilt of the offense of possession was overwhelming, and therefore the district court’s failure to recall an alternate juror for approximately 10 minutes amounted, under the facts of the case, to harmless error. Accordingly, the judgment of the court of appeals was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.